We know that we lie. Sometimes we even lie to ourselves.
A man can say that he believes X is the right thing to do, but if he always chooses to do Y, then isn’t it obvious that he actually believes that Y is the right thing for him to do?
People will conflate this with self- justifying concepts of “choosing to be bad” or “choosing to be naughty”. But what is truly good and right isn’t just some rulebook to follow in order to please or displease someone else. What is good and right is what is best for us, and anything else is choosing less for ourselves. And our own lives have told us time and time again that we do not always know our believe what is truly best, good and right for us.
Behavior is not about “disappointing others” or “disappointing God” or “following rules” (that we don’t truly believe). Behavior is the outwardly visible symptom of what we truly believe and value in our innermost.
So, if someone chooses to maintain a hidden relationship with another person while they are also in a committed relationship or marriage that trusts them to honor and respect their partner — it is clear that they believe that cheating is the best choice for them. People will try to play word games with this and say that they know it is “bad” as if they could just lump “good” and “bad” into a religious or moral category and divorce themselves from those things actually applying to them. But what they are actually doing is making decisions based on what is “good for me right now”. So, in fact, how we behave truly reveals what we believe.
People can participate in churches and religious practices and learn what to say to appear good — but what they truly believe always comes out in their behavior.
Hardened criminals who have chosen to behave in atrocious and vicious ways will tell you “I’m not a bad guy” and can easily explain how they justified their behavior as “good for me in that moment”.
So when we encounter something in our behavior that we can see is not healthy for us and others, if we only set up guardrails and measurements to keep our behavior in check — but we continue in our hearts to crave after and believe those things are “good for me right now” — then we are still bound in the chains of what we truly believe. We may continue to struggle and even break free from them at times, but if we continue to return to those habits and behaviors, somewhere deep inside we have decided that these behaviors are “good for me right now”.
Dead religious practice doesn’t change hearts and behaviors — it just keeps them behind closed doors. Laws and prohibition do not get rid of the dangerous behaviors — it just keeps them hidden behind closed doors and provides punishment for those who aren’t good at the game of hide and seek.
So you see, a change in heart, a new creation, a life changed to walk in The Way is not about rules and guardrails and checkbooks to live up to. It is about believing Jesus’s example — his behavior and teachings — truly are best for us to follow.
Jesus is the one figure that I can look at the example of his behavior and imagine how beautiful the world might be if everyone lived as He lived. If I look at other religious leaders, figures, and philosophers — no matter how high minded their ideas might be — if every single person in the world behaved a they behaved, it is easy to see there would be problems.
So, if behavior is the true revelation of what one believes, maybe we should spend at least as much time standing beside those who live as servants as we spend sitting around those who talk about things like holiness and law and right and wrong? Maybe our focus shouldn’t be on just trying to curb our appetite for temptation, but should be on figuring out what we actually believe in our hearts.
If we are struggling in habitual sin, we either do not have the power of the Holy Spirit in us that is able to overcome sin, or we have convinced ourselves that it is not a big deal and it’s isn’t really bad for me right now. We need to repent in our hearts and truly believe, not just “try harder” to follow rules. Our behavior will follow what we truly believe.